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NJIT, state help bring together tech startups and job-seekers

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Business leaders and state officials say New Jersey has no shortage of bold startup companies or skilled workers looking for a chance to help. But sometimes the two groups need a little push to find one another.

That's where the New Jersey Institute of Technology and state labor officials come in, bringing together tech startups and many of the high-level professionals who are out of work. NJIT and the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development did just that on Thursday at its Person to Business event, or P2B, where executives from about 20 companies discussed volunteer opportunities with dozens of job-seekers.

With recent downsizing in many of the state's technology and life science companies, organizers said, the program gives the startups access to professionals who have corporate experience in many areas. For the job-seekers, it's a chance to offer guidance as volunteers, gain insights into startup companies and help fill resume gaps while potentially laying the groundwork for future opportunities.

"What we have found is that for people who are in transition — the professionals — it gave them an opportunity to contribute," said Judith Sheft, NJIT's associate vice president for technology development. "It also gave the small companies and the startups an opportunity to leverage some of the great talent that we have in New Jersey."

Sheft said P2B is "not a job fair, per se," because organizers ask the companies about their needs and then match them to professionals who are invited to attend.

NJIT started P2B in 2009, and the initiative is now a piece of the labor department's New Jersey Talent Networks program. The effort was launched about six years ago to create networks for the six industry areas that account for 50 percent of the state's jobs and two-thirds of its wages: advanced manufacturing, financial services, health care, life sciences, technology and entrepreneurship and transportation, logistics and distribution.

"(The department) realized we had to have some industry sector focus," said Mary Ellen Clark, the agency's assistant commissioner for work force development. "If you don't have somebody who's paying attention to it specifically, nothing gets done."

The talent networks program now holds events throughout the year, while highlighting the sectors through designated "industry weeks." This week, events across the state focused on the technology and entrepreneurship sector.

Donna Levan, director of the technology talent network, said, "the job search has changed since 2007," so one key purpose of the events is to educate job seekers. Another goal is to help align the private sector, public resources and higher education in the state.

"There are a lot of pieces to what we do, and we try to really tap into all of the different partnerships," Levan said. "It's really providing that glue that never was there before, connecting employers, government and education."

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